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A National Goals Wish List

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With a new Administration in Washington and the ensuing re-examination of goals and strategies for our nation, I want to offer my own wish list for changes in our national priorities and goals.

  • I wish that by the year 1994--never mind waiting for the year 2000--our goal was to meet the full cost of quality in all early-childhood programs; in other words, fair and decent compensation should be available to all who work with young children. The reasons behind this wish are obvious:

First, meeting the full cost of quality would enable all parents to have equal access to high-quality provisions for their young ones.

Second, worthy wages could go a long way toward making the care and teaching of all of our children a remunerative and honorable profession--one that good people could afford to grow, learn, and stay in.

Third, it seems to me that, in principle, we cannot have good environments for children unless these environments are also good for the adults who work in them.

Fourth, I think that it is a reasonable hypothesis that teachers treat children very much the way they are treated.

Invariably when good things are happening between teachers and children, good things are happening between teachers and those they report to. Sure, some individuals fall below the good treatment they receive, and no doubt many rise above poor treatment. But on the average, on a day-by-day basis, teachers and children must find their lives together satisfying and worth living.

There are some promising developments at both federal and state levels that address inadequate compensation (see "On the Horizon: New Policy Initiatives to Enhance Child Care Staff Compensation'' in the July 1992 Young Children); particularly noteworthy are the efforts to improve Head Start and military child-care-staff salaries. Now our challenge is to build upon these promising initiatives to insure that improved compensation linked to greater opportunities for professional development is available to all of those working with young children in all types of settings.

  • I wish that our community, business, and political leaders would resist the temptation to justify our national expenditures, priorities, goals, and other reforms on the grounds of being better able to compete with other countries. There are several reasons behind this wish.

The importance of our country's becoming first in science or mathematics is not clear to me. Indeed, a report of a cross-national comparison last year showed that 13-year-olds in the former Soviet Union were substantially ahead of their U.S. peers in math and science, but could anyone claim that in any important respect theirs was and is a better country to live in? If one of our neighbors--Canada, or Mexico, or any other country for that matter--reached Mars before we did, we would take pleasure in their success and admire their achievement knowing that we had allocated our resources to urgent earthly matters.

I wish that we would stop talking about children as though they were a national resource like coal or oil--convertible into something else. They are the object of our concern in their own right, not because they can be "cashed in'' for something else.

Furthermore, I wish that we would all stop talking about children as "our future.'' Children are not our future, they are their future! Our obligation is to act now to insure that their future is worthy of them. We must do what must be done simply because they have been born, because they are all ours, and because it is right to do so--for their sakes, not ours--and not just to compete with others.

  • I wish that we would resist justifying social and educational programs in terms of cost effectiveness.

We have no evidence that Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Navy, the Library of Congress, or even general elections are cost effective. We support these activities--even in the absence of hard data about their cost effectiveness--because we believe that it is right to do so and because we believe that we would be seriously impoverished or in other ways worse off without them.

  • I wish that we would adopt as a national goal that all of our children become bilingual in English and Spanish.

First, a large proportion of our citizens are native Spanish speakers. Furthermore, we have millions of neighbors to our south whose native language is Spanish, and it is hoped that building strong relationships with these countries will be on our nation's agenda soon. Spanish is the most common first language on earth.

Of course, for many of our children, English is a second language, and Spanish would be a third. A bilingual nation is not an impossibility, as some other countries have shown. It is my impression that we underestimate children's language ability and many other intellectual capacities.

  • I wish that we would see as a main goal of education, not that all of our children become engineers, C.E.O.'s, computer scientists, or other select professionals, but that we insure that what they do become is not predetermined at birth by their socioeconomic circumstances, gender, race, ethnic group, first language, nationality, or other factors that are out of their control.

If national goals have to be about being first, then I wish for our goal number one that we be first in showing our fellow men and women around the world how a people of diverse origins, races, ethnic groups, religions, languages, cultures, and lifestyles can build a nation in which political, social, and economic justice is guaranteed for all. That is a difficult goal and one that is truly worthy of the effort required to achieve it.

Lilian G. Katz, a professor of early-childhood education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This essay was first published in the association's journal Young Children.

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